Tag Archives: Indian military

Reviews of ‘Indian Power Projection’

My book Indian Power Projection: Arms, Influence and Ambition, recently published in RUSI’s Whitehall Paper series of short monographs, was reviewed this week in two places.

Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times:

The rise of China has provoked lots of commentary on how Beijing sees the world. But there tends to be much less discussion of how India sees its place in the international order. Two recent publications shed some interesting light on that topic. One is a recent speech by Shivshankar Menon, who served for many years as India’s National Security Adviser. The other is a pamphlet on “Indian Power Projection”, by the scholar, Shashank Joshi … The motives and details of India’s strategic posture are discussed in Joshi’s admirably lucid pamphlet. The author, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, notes that the Indian elite is “embracing new and more ambitious tasks for the country’s military”. Joshi argues that India’s “threat perception” remains dominated “by the allied nuclear powers of Pakistan to the northwest and China to the north”. But, over the coming years, Joshi sees India joining the small group of nations – including the US, Britain, France, Russia and, increasingly, China – that are willing and able to “project power”, outside their own regions.

And Ankit Panda in the Diplomat:

Indian Power Projection: Ambition, Arms and Influence presents, as of 2016, what is perhaps the most up-to-date compendium of information on India’s hard power toolkit and Indian policymaker attitudes toward that toolkit … so much of what is written of Indian defense policy is pieced together from frenzied reporting and statements by officials. Without a white paper on defense, well-researched compendiums like Joshi’s become all the more valuable for analysts, scholars, and policy-makers working on India.





India and the Middle East

At Foreign Affairs, I have a short piece of analysis looking at whether India is likely to engage more intensively with the Middle East:

The fate of the Middle East, home to roughly seven million Indians, has long been tied to that of India. As Salman Khurshid, then India’s foreign minister, noted in 2013, the Persian Gulf, which supplies two-thirds of India’s oil and gas, is the country’s largest trading partner — more important than the 28 countries of the European Union combined. Despite its stake in the region, however, India has remained passive in the face of crises. It appears wary of taking on a more assertive diplomatic or military role — more likely to evacuate citizens than send more in to grapple with the Middle East’s problems.

This is based on a slightly longer piece written last year for India’s Seminar magazine:

[T]he challenge for Indian policy is to demonstrate the flexibility to protect and advance Indian interests even as fixed, fast-frozen assumptions melt away. One challenge lies in carefully assessing the fragility of the status quo, rather than simply the risk of changes away from it. To the extent that India seeks an inclusive Syrian peace, its alignment with Russian and Iranian policy has yielded few results. In Egypt, too, Indian analysts under-estimate the long-term problems that the post-Brotherhood junta is generating. Here, the Afghan analogy again misleads: Indian policymakers are prone to exaggerating the foreign origins of protest movements or rebellions, thereby underestimating the indigenous forces at work. Even as India expands defence agreements with the Arab monarchies, it should ensure that it engages with the beleaguered opposition under the surface.

A second challenge is institutional. As C. Raja Mohan has noted, India’s Ministry of External Affairs places Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan into one division, the Arab countries into a second, and the rest of the Middle East and North Africa into a third.16 But even if such things were reformed, it is harder to see what a coherent Look West policy would entail. India’s engagement with East Asia in the two decades between 1992 and 2012 proceeded along relatively fixed, predictable lines (first economic, then defence) and involved stable regimes. But in the Middle East, alignments and polities themselves are proving more fluid. In this environment, a diverse alliance portfolio, encompassing traditional power centres but also new, influential, and even unsavoury actors within states – for example, Islamist groups, protest movements, armed factions, and other extra-regional powers – is required.

And whereas to look East was to look, in the final instance, at China, Indian policymakers looking to the West will find no single focal point, positive or negative. What is important is that India be nimble in exploiting opportunities, as it has been in East Asia in the past few years, eclectic in its partners, and resilient in the face of regional turbulence of the greatest magnitude since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

On this subject, see also: Dhruva Jaishankar, Alyssa Ayres, Raja Mohan, and Martin Indyk.

When, exactly, did India get a nuclear weapon?

French Mirage 2000N carrying a nuclear-capable missile (India operates the Mirage 2000H variant)

French Mirage 2000N carrying a nuclear-capable missile (India operates the Mirage 2000H variant). Photo from The Aviationist

According to one senior air force official, “In the early 1990s, the air force was thinking of one-way missions. . . . [I]t was unlikely that the pilot deployed on a nuclear attack mission would have made it back.”

A senior Indian defense official privy to this effort disclosed to the author that, until [Kargil in 1999], the air force had no idea (1) what types of weapons were available; (2) in how many numbers; and (3) what it was expected to do with the weapons.

In the latest IS (the journal, not the jihadist group!), Gaurav Kampani has a fascinating article on India’s nuclear weapons [1].

He makes a conceptual distinction (p79-80) between  a nuclear device (“an apparatus that presents proof of scientific principle that a nuclear explosion will occur”) and actual weaponization (“building compact reliable rugged weapons and mating them with delivery vehicles”), and then asks why the “process of weaponization in South Africa, India, and Pakistan took eight, fifteen and ten years, a nearly twenty-eight-fold increase on average” when compared to the P5 states. India conducted its first nuclear test in 1974, but only developed a weapon much later.

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 10.01.38

Timeline for producing a nuclear device versus a weapon proper (from Kampani, “New Delhi’s Long Nuclear Journey”, IS, p87)

His answer is secrecy (p81-2):

Indian political leaders feared pressures for nuclear rollback from the United States. These pressures pushed the weaponization process underground, deep into the bowels of the state. To safeguard secrecy, policy planning was weakly institutionalized. Sensitive nuclear weapons–related information was tightly compartmentalized and hived off within an informal social network consisting of a small number of scientists and civilian bureaucrats. Secrecy concerns prevented decision-makers and policy planners from decomposing problem sets and parceling them out simultaneously for resolution to multiple bureaucratic actors, including the military

In the absence of holistic planning stretching back to the 1980s, many technical problems, particularly those related to the integration of weapons with combat aircraft, were only partially anticipated. In other instances, policy planners remained unaware of the technical challenges until they demanded resolution. All of these factors became roadblocks on the path to weaponization. Secrecy concerns similarly prevented policy planners from institutionalizing the soft organizational and training routines between the scientific and military agencies necessary to move weapons from the stockpile to the target, in effect attenuating the state’s capacity to make good on its insinuated threat to punish a nuclear aggressor via a retaliatory response.

Kampani’s article is based on a large number of interviews with high-level Indian civilian and military officials associated with India’s nuclear weapons programme. As such, he reveals a number of new details that are of great interest whether or not one agrees with his theoretical explanation.

On India’s ability to deliver nuclear weapons (pp94, 97-8, 101):

The DRDO first conducted trials in the early 1980s to test the Jaguar combat aircraft, which India had purchased from Britain in the late 1970s, as a potential delivery vehicle … Having found the Jaguar unsuitable because of the low ground clearance between the aircraft and the nuclear weapon container, DRDO next identified the Mirage 2000 as its choice for a delivery system …

The trouble, recalls another senior air force officer who served at the time, was that “the boffins developed it [the device] independently without reference to the delivery platform. There was a problem with carriage because the weapon was too long.” This was cause for concern especially during the “rotation maneuver during the takeoff stage. A skilled Mirage pilot could have pulled it off . . . but not just any pilot,” a senior air force officer with an intimate view of the program told the author. The “size of the weapon itself, its length and weight upset the aerodynamics and center of gravity of the aircraft.”

Other aspects that needed resolution were the aircraft’s electronic interface and sighting systems to enable the arming and release of the weapon. The electronic interface could not be reconfigured without what one air force officer described as access to the “manufacturer’s database” and computer source codes. The aircraft also required extensive rewiring for electrical connectivity to enable the bomb’s functions. The Mirages that India had acquired from France in the mid–1980s were not nuclear certified. There were thus concerns that a post-detonation electromagnetic pulse could interfere with the aircraft’s computer-controlled fly-by-wire, communications, and other electronic systems.

According to one senior air force official, “In the early 1990s, the air force was thinking of one-way missions. . . . [I]t was unlikely that the pilot deployed on a nuclear attack mission would have made it back.” … Until 1994, DRDO conducted experimental modifications on just one Mirage 2000 with a single test pilot. There was no backup .. [but] an Indian air force study conducted in the early 2000s highlighted the logistical challenges of planning nuclear missions against Pakistan. It showed that a single mission alone could tie up as many as sixty aircraft to assist the penetrating nuclear aircraft.

Kampani concludes that “the author’s interviews with several senior retired Indian air force officers at the highest levels suggest that India achieved an air-deliverable capability sometime in 1995” (p86), a much later date than is usually assumed in the literature. He also notes (p97, footnote 73):

There is evidence to suggest that Indian defense agencies were able to modify warheads for ballistic missile delivery by 1996–97. It is uncertain if the systems met operational standards of reliability, however. According to a former commander in chief, Strategic Forces Command, who spoke to the author on the condition of anonymity, even as late as 2003–04, combat aircraft were the most flexible and reliable nuclear delivery systems India possessed.

On civil-military coordination (pp102-3):

[P]rior to 1999, the air force did not know who possessed the codes for arming nuclear weapons and how those codes were to be deployed during a mission. Indian weapons at this time did not incorporate permissive action links that would enable arming the weapons at will. The assumption in the air force was that the task of arming the weapon would fall on the pilot at a designated time during oight. The air force and the scientific agencies, however, did not conduct practice drills to test the communication and weapon arming protocols during a potential nuclear mission …

As the Indian government secretly prepared for an all-out war with Pakistan [during Kargil, in 1999], the spotlight turned to the nuclear aspect and the lack of operational planning with the Indian military. A senior Indian defense official privy to this effort disclosed to the author that, until then, the air force had no idea (1) what types of weapons were available; (2) in how many numbers; and (3) what it was expected to do with the weapons. All the air force had was delivery capability in the form of a few modiaed Mirage 2000s. At that point, only the air chief, the vice air chief, and two other individuals at Air Headquarters had knowledge of the program.

On dealing with nuclear attack in the 1990s (p100):

In the event of the prime minister’s incapacitation, power would devolve upon the Cabinet Committee on Security, but the likelihood of that event happening was thought low. A Pakistani nuclear attack, the officials believed, would be limited and symbolic and leave the functioning of the federal government relatively undisturbed.

But in the worst-case “bolt-out-of-the blue” scenario in which Delhi did go up in a mushroom cloud, power would devolve upon a hierarchy of state governors and principals in the state civil service who would assume responsibilities of the federal government, while the military would function under a reconstituted civilian authority. India, the leaders of the nuclear network believed, was a “big country. It would survive!” But how, they could not tell.

Similarly, a spare oral brief was made to new holders of the prime minister’s office. If, however, they were deemed disinterested [!!!], and at least three incumbents in the 1990s were, their principal secretaries were briefed instead. Beyond prime ministers and their principal secretaries, no information was shared with ministers on the Cabinet Committee on Security or with federal governors and provincial civil service chiefs who might be called to assume responsibilities.

Kampani rejects the view that India’s slow weaponization was to do with India’s civilian-dominated civil-military relations (pp108-9), as others have argued:

If civil-military institutional tensions were the cause, however, one would see greater aggregation of information among civilians, but the regime of information scarcity operated with nearly equal severity on both the civilian and military sides of the nuclear equation. As a senior Indian defense official at the heart of the nuclear network put it: “Yes, the military was kept out of the information loop. There were no serious reasons to bring the military into the loop because of the danger of secrecy being compromised. The chiefs of staff are trustworthy. But who can vouch for the trustworthiness of their staff, their drivers? The latter could be spies and the weak link in the chain. The military’s complaints have more to with a sense of privilege and pride. Why should they be told? The cabinet ministers weren’t told, the defense minister, their political boss was not told. So why should the armed services chiefs be told?” … More significant, India’s civilian leaders have shown little hesitation in institutionalizing the military’s role in nuclear planning post-1998, once India stepped out of the nuclear closet. This change has occurred without any fundamental rewrite in the DNA of India’s civil-military relations.

The implication of all this, of course, is that as India’s nuclear weapons programme institutionally matures (see my post last week and Shyam Saran last year) and internal secrecy diminishes, the assumed civil-military or cultural constraints will not be as constraining as is assumed.

[1] Gaurav Kampani, “New Delhi’s Long Nuclear Journey.” International Security 38, no. 4 (April 1, 2014): 79–114

Before Khobragade: notes from the 1981 US-India PNG’ing

Apropos of Khobragade-gate – culminating in last week’s reciprocal expulsion of diplomats from the United States and India – I was interested in the precedents for this case.

The last incident was in 1997, when two US intelligence officers were expelled after an unauthorised meeting with a senior official from India’s Intelligence Bureau, with the US kicking out two Indian officials in response.

The case before that appears to date to 1981, when George Griffin was prevented from taking up a post in Delhi:

Griffin had served at the American consulate in Calcutta 10 years earlier, in 1971, during the war with Pakistan when the US had threatened to attack India. “We were convinced that he played an intelligence role while at the consulate, and there was simply no way we could welcome someone who had tried to threaten the security of India while she was at war,” recalled a diplomat who had just returned from an overseas posting to a role at the external affairs ministry headquarters here. “There was anger that the US had even tried to suggest posting Griffin here — they were needling us.” Prime Minister Indira Gandhi made a public statement in response to questions, confirming that India had refused to accept Griffin’s posting because of his “intelligence role” during the 1971 war … Predictably, the US retaliated, refusing to accept the appointment of Prabhakar Menon, posted by India that year as a political officer at the Washington embassy.

In 2002, the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training conducted a fascinating extended interview (PDF) with Griffin as part of its oral history programme, including segments on his time in Calcutta and his later falling out of favour with the Indian government. Here are some particularly interesting excerpts:

On meeting with Indian Army officers

One evening [during Griffin’s Calcutta posting], we were invited to the home of the Indian Political Officer – the equivalent of an ambassador – for dinner. One of the guests was an Indian mountain climber. He was an Army colonel, who commanded the Indian Army Mountain Warfare School in Kashmir. He bragged that he had just climbed Kanchenjunga, the third highest peak in the world, east of Everest, on the China border. He showed us some slides of the climb, which was supposed to be secret. The mountain is considered sacred by the Bhutanese, and the official line remains that no one has ever climbed it. Moreover, the Chinese didn’t want Indians climbing it because it overlooked Tibet. The mountain has a cliff face on the north side, which is considered unclimbable. The Chinese wanted to climb it themselves, but that is possible only through Sikkim or Bhutan, and the Indians wouldn’t let them. The colonel said that, if the Chinese had learned about his expedition, they would have considered it a spy mission. Two Chinese military bases – an airbase and an army base – can be seen from the peak. We decided not to publicize it.

On  Americans in India:

Indians and Americans have almost the same image abroad – that is, arrogant and not very nice, until you get to know them. Anybody who comes to America and spends time, especially in the middle of the country, will say, “Oh, Americans are so friendly. Everybody says hello to you. Everywhere you go, people are friendly and say hi.” It’s rather similar in India … Indians in general, and especially Indians abroad, are like Americans. They appear arrogant, they know everything, they are not always very nice people, so you don’t think you want to know them. But if you do get to know them – the same with Americans – you can find good friends.

On internal US disputes over the 1971 War, which have been written about in recent books (notably Gary Bass’ Blood Telegram):

We were at the end of the food chain. From our perspective, the Department, Embassy New Delhi, and Embassy Islamabad were squabbling about what our stance should be. In particular, Ambassadors Farland (in Islamabad) and ex-Senator Kenneth Keating (in New Delhi) seemed to us to be snarling at each other. We kept adding free advice to our reports that we should all cooperate, as we’re on the same team. But differing views has been a problem between those two embassies ever since Pakistan was created. Embassy New Delhi finally arranged a meeting, asking Islamabad to send its political counselor. He didn’t come, but his deputy did – my friend Bill Simmons. I was invited too, so I went to Delhi and sat in a series of meetings mostly chaired by Lee Stull, the Political Counselor. Dick Viets was the Ambassador’s staff aide at the time, and Galen Stone was the DCM. They and lots of others, including the CIA station chief, got involved. But we ran into a buzz saw. Bill Simmons said Ambassador Farland was upset because we didn’t grasp that East Pakistan was internal Pakistani business. He suggested that we shut up and do our jobs tracking India, which seemed primed to attack our CENTO ally Pakistan … every time Embassy Islamabad said it was an internal Pakistani affair we sent in a report showing how those “internal” problems had spilled over into India … In the midst of the war, I got a call from one of the generals at Eastern Command asking why we were sending an aircraft carrier into the Bay of Bengal. I asked Embassy New Delhi what was going on. Ambassador Keating in turn called the State Department and, in much more colorful language, asked if it were true. It turned that the USS Enterprise had been ordered into the Bay of Bengal without informing the Ambassador. He was livid.

On India’s war hero General  JFR Jacob giving away India’s order of battle:

Frustrated, I went back to Calcutta and kept doing my job. One evening my wife and I were invited to supper a trois by the deputy commandant of Eastern Command, a fascinating gentleman named Major General J. F. R. Jacob. After the war, he was promoted, and became the highest ranking Jew ever in the Indian Army – something he is rightly proud of. He’s from Bombay and is now a senior member of the ruling BJP. Jackie and I got to be pretty thick after a couple of false starts. At supper that night he showed us some of his prized Chinese artifacts, and we talked a lot about art. Finally, he said, “Don’t you have to go to the bathroom? Go through the bedroom.” It took me a few moments to understand, but once in his bedroom I found a huge map of the region on his wall .on which all of the Indian military formations were carefully plotted – all of them. I didn’t have a camera, but I had a pretty good memory. I studied the map for as long as I dared, then raced to the Consulate and filed the news that there were troops where we didn’t know there were troops, and many more than we had thought.

Being followed in India and Pakistan:

Like many of my colleagues, I always assumed that my phone was tapped in every post. I was sure of it in India; it was a given. And I presumed it in Pakistan. Since I had transferred directly from India to Pakistan, I probably was under more suspicion than some of our other people. It was proved later on when Howie Schaffer and Dennis Kux were tapped. Bhutto played a tape recording of one of their conversations on the air, claiming that American diplomats were making fun of Pakistan and were not real friends. That was long after I left, but it created quite a stir. So, yes, one presumed. Watched? Of course. They tracked me around. They always knew where I was. The Northwest Frontier was a bit like the northeast in India; you had to have a special permit to go there. There was a DEA agent in Islamabad who got in trouble because of that. He came to Pakistan directly from being a deputy sheriff in West Texas, and hadn’t been overseas before. I’ll never forget his name – Harold Leap. He sported a 10-gallon hat and cowboy boots, and liked to strap on a six- shooter and have a good time. Once he chased some drug runners into the Northwest Frontier. The Pakistan police would never do that, but Leap did. He was lucky to be alive. He got shot at and then rescued, I think, by Pakistan Army troops. The Ambassador sent him away before he could be PNGed by the Pakistan Government. Yes, they knew where you were.

On being accused of trying to kill Mrs Gandhi:

One of the triggers for her action had my name on it. She was about to take a trip abroad when mechanics found something wrong with her official aircraft. At an Air India facility in Bombay, where the plane was maintained, inspectors found some control wires sawed halfway through. As the communists’ favorite “killer CIA spy,” my name got attached to this. Allegedly, I had somehow sneaked in and done this in the dead of night. They had to blame somebody, and I was convenient, if nowhere near India. So, I was one scapegoat to prove that somebody was out to get her. In the end, Mrs. Gandhi’s imposition of the state of emergency cost her the prime ministership, and she went to jail. Then in 1980 she came back.

On being PNGd in 1981:

I told the Department I wanted Delhi. The Indian Ambassador got wind of it, and became more and more friendly. At a luncheon he had for me, he noted that I would need a proper visa, and asked for my passport. His staff gave me a multiple-entry diplomatic visa, to save me from a bureaucratic run-around in New Delhi. When he gave it to me, he wished me well in New Delhi, saying he would look me up when he came home, so we could continue to be good friends. I was very happy about the future … I got a radio-telephone call from good old Howard Schaffer, saying there was a problem. When I asked what it was, he said it looked as if I might not be going to New Delhi after all. I had just been declared persona non grata by the Indian Government. [They] were told that, actually, the Government of India didn’t want to see me, ever again. After all, Mrs. Gandhi saw me as a major enemy of India. So I was PNGed, thanks to a messenger. I was front-page news for a few days. Secretary Haig was quoted as saying, “Griffin is not a CIA spy,” which cheesed off the Agency because we’re not supposed to confirm or deny such things. I’ve been told it was the only time a Secretary of State has ever said that … [In 1984] Then the Soviets really went to town, saying I was behind [Indira Gandhi’s assassination] as a promoter of Free Kalistan, a militant Sikh movement … Pravda 111 was first to print that story. Then the Indian press picked it up and repeated it along with my picture – the whole shebang … . Everybody who followed Soviet disinformation activity (it’s a Russian word) said my case was unprecedented. They had never seen anything else like it. If you go on the Internet, you will find all the books in which I’m called a killer CIA spy.

Avoiding the Indian Ambassador in Lagos:

Our chancery, thanks to some clever bureaucrats, was next to the Bulgarian Embassy. One of the most dedicated recorders of our fire was a cameraman at that chancery. Our communications vault was in a corner closest to the Bulgarians. Both embassies had lots of antennas. After the fire, the FCS office was moved to that side of the building, as we were one of the least sensitive sections. Two doors past the Bulgarians was the Indian chancery and residence. The Indian Ambassador, because of my history, refused to speak to me. He would dodge away across the room at large receptions, and turn on his heel if I got too close. But his wife was the sister of India’s national tennis champion, who was a friend of ours in Calcutta.

On being shunned by the Indian Ambassador in Nigeria:

A couple of weeks after we arrived in Lagos, I asked someone where to get a haircut. The most common answer was “Try the Indian Ambassador’s wife.” She ran a unisex hairdressing shop in her residence. Since I had heard of her and knew her brother, I took the bit between my teeth and called for an appointment. She signed me up, and as she was cutting my hair, she said, “I think I have heard of you.” I replied that I was a friend of her brother. She seemed delighted that I knew Calcutta, and wondered if we had been in touch lately. I said, “No,” and told her why, offering some of my history with her government. She said, “Oh, that’s so silly. Why did they do that?” I said, “I don’t know. Ask your husband.” After my third haircut I bumped into him in the hallway, and told him I thought avoidance was unnecessary. We should at least say hello politely. I said, “What’s been done has been done. I’m not going to assassinate you; nor you me.” He seemed to agree, and suggested that my wife and I come for dinner. An invitation never did come. Years later, I met the man we PNGed in retaliation for my being bounced from New Delhi. He, of course, was immediately made ambassador to Malawi, or some such place. He came to a conference of Indian chiefs of mission in Nairobi, and made a point of being introduced to me. He said he was delighted that I came despite our mutual history, because he wanted to meet me. He said, “Thank you for helping my career.”

The interview’s conclusion:

Q: Well, I want to thank you very much, George. This is a fascinating story, and I hope you’ve cleared your name with the Indians by this point.

GRIFFIN: Oh, they love me now.

Indian perspectives on border tensions with China

Some context at the WSJ on the past week’s flare-up, and my article from 2011 (PDF) on the drivers of Sino-Indian tension. And Indian reactions:

Srinath Raghavan:

The areas where Chinese intrusions occur are claimed by both sides as lying on their side of the LAC. The Chinese are perfectly sincere when they claim that their forces are operating on their side of the LAC — just as the Indians are when they claim that the Chinese have intruded into the their side of the Line. This simple fact seems to elude most of our commentators in the media. This is all the more surprising because this problem has been around for over fifty years now. Daulat Beg Oldi, the focal point of the current hubbub, was an area of contention even before the 1962 war. Such places are likely to remain contentious until there is a boundary agreement between India and China. Till such an agreement is reached, both countries will continue to send troops into disputed areas, if only to keep their formal territorial claims alive. An Indian army chief is on the record stating that “the Chinese have a different perception of the Line of Actual Control, as do we. When they come up to their perception, we call it incursion and likewise they do.”

Equally mistaken is the notion that every move by China is part of some larger plan to box India into a corner. If our experts are to be believed, Beijing has worked out its strategy for the next thirty years while New Delhi can barely think thirty days ahead. The idea that great powers work to some predetermined grand strategy flies in the face of all international history. It is certainly not true of China, which has more than its share of extraordinary blunders.

Srinath Raghavan, again:

Srinath Raghavan, the author of War and Peace in Modern India, shares the view that Chinese unease with India’s border bustle is the big driver in this round of hostilities. But the senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi refuses to divine a hardening of Beijing’s overall stance towards India.

“I think it fits with past patterns of incursions in the area,” says Raghavan. “The Chinese are operating within their notion of the LAC. There is evidently an increase in tit-for-tat moves but China is not the only active party here. We too make our moves in areas that fall under China’s perceived LAC. So long as there is no agreed boundary, these things are bound to happen.”

Prashant Jha:

Last week, as the dispute over the alleged Chinese incursions across the Line of Actual Control deepened, the Headlines Today anchor, Rahul Kanwal, adopted a particularly aggressive line of questioning. Implicit in his approach was the assumption that the Chinese were the ‘aggressors’, that the Government of India had been weak, submissive, and not done enough […] Mr Kanwal did not reply to The Hindu’s question whether his channel had adopted a particular editorial line on the issue. But his approach was very similar to what was seen across channels, with anchors framing provocative questions, picking experts with a particular slant of views, and hectoring down those whose opinions perhaps varied with a narrative which sought to paint the issue of border ‘incursions’ in black-and-white. This throws up, yet again, questions about the nature of foreign policy coverage on Indian television.

The other issue is of the kind of ‘experts’ on TV discussions. Senior editors admit that there is a pre-determined narrative and guests are picked depending on their availability, but also familiarity with their thoughts and what they would say. ‘We don’t like nuances,” says one editor.

 Nitin Pai:

The PLA’s tactic of creating outrage to check the Indian Army works because the Chinese side expects the Indian political leadership to act rationally. If, instead, New Delhi were to allow the situation “to accentuate”, to use the prime minister’s phrase, then it would be for Beijing to choose whether it wants to escalate matters, especially at this time when China finds itself poised on the verge of conflict with almost all of its neighbours.

This is, of course, a risky thing to do. However, this is also a good time to take a calculated risk. After this month’s incursion, PLA commanders have proposed that the Indian Army back away from its positions in return for the PLA vacating its campsite in the Depsang valley in Ladakh. New Delhi should reject such a compromise; instead, it should visibly reinforce the Indian military presence around the vicinity. New Delhi should signal to Beijing – and, lest we forget, to our television studios – that this would be our default response to anything that we consider an incursion […] Beyond the Himalayan boundary theatre, New Delhi should calibrate its attention to the numerous maritime disputes involving China and its East Asian neighbours to the temperature of the overall India-China relationship. China cannot expect New Delhi to be insensitive to Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian states if Beijing is insensitive to India’s interests.

Ajai Shukla:

Without a road network, the cruel Himalayan terrain reduces even the largest divisions to isolated groups of soldiers sitting on widely separated hilltops. For decades, New Delhi has failed to speed up road building […] New Delhi must initiate an emergency inter-agency drive to cut through the difficulties and cut the roads through the hills. A Strategic Roads Plan already exists, crafted by Shyam Saran, a former special advisor to the prime minister who invested years of tramping around the borders into this comprehensive document […] Until this network of new Indian roads substantially changes the military equation on the ground, India has little choice but to hasten softly in its military build-up […] And as India changes ground realities, it must face the current ones, too – and keep talking with the Chinese army to ensure that tensions do not get out of hand.

Ajai Shukla, again:

This is no routine patrol incursion, which is common since both sides routinely patrol up to their perceived boundaries in order to keep alive their claims. Instead, this is an escalation that establishes “facts on the ground” that would materially affect an eventual territorial settlement. Remember the Wangdung intrusion, near Tawang, in 1986? That pocket, where the Chinese had pitched up a few tents, much like they did at DBO last fortnight, continues to remain with them […] You must make it clear that – even in the absence of a Wangdung-type troop build-up – all options remain on India’s table. The “proportionality” that you have advocated could involve a similar occupation of disputed territory by Indian troops at a selected time and place […] If the Chinese patrol replaces tents with permanent shelters, the Indian army will conclude that they intend to remain there through winter. In that case, it will be difficult for the government to explain to voters why it is not reacting militarily to a Kargil-style occupation of Indian territory […]

China’s new regime is clearly testing New Delhi’s resolve, checking to see whether the MEA’s wish to make the visit a success will induce it to meekly accept the incursion at DBO. Your discussions in Beijing will set the tone for the next 10 years. We are confident you will flash the steel that your predecessor, S M Krishna, did in reminding the Chinese that our sensitivities in J&K matched Chinese sensitivities in Tibet; coming closer than any Indian official before or after to reopening the Tibet question.

 Indrani Bagchi:

Watching China’s aggressive territorial moves in the east, India should have learnt one lesson — China will remain intractable in its territorial claims. It’s willing to go to war with Japan or Vietnam and even India if need be. Second, having built a formidable network of infrastructure on the border, China is apparently unsettled at India’s own efforts in the past five years. This may ‘explain’ Chinese behaviour, but the Indian government’s focus seems to be on keeping the relationship insulated from such incidents. This talks-despite-terrorism policy didn’t work in the Pakistan context and it’s bound to fail equally spectacularly with respect to China.

KC Singh (former Secretary in India’s foreign ministry):

This time, however, the Chinese have not only exceeded their accepted outer limit by a few kilometres but actually camped there. In effect, the Chinese have changed the rules of the game. The ministry of external affairs dubs it a “face-to-face” situation. The mechanisms for border stabilisation, established by the Special Representatives (SRs) for border settlement, have failed to deal with the latest Chinese infraction […] Interestingly, the current fracas occurs weeks before the arrival of the new Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang, in India much as the Chinese ambassador’s provocative remarks on Arunachal Pradesh in 2006 were made on the eve of the visit of then President Hu Jintao. Is there method in this madness?

India’s dilemma is akin to what the US and the West faced in 1945, at the end of the Second World War, i.e. whether to trust Stalin’s Soviet Union or contain it […] Sinologists advising the Indian government, led by national security adviser S.S. Menon, who interminably insists that a war with China is impossible, may actually have emboldened China to test the Indian resolve again half a century after the 1962 debacle. The Chinese offer of an agreement to freeze Indian troop enhancement, bolster Pakistan, encourage Sri Lanka and penetrate Nepal are all to make India accept Chinese dominance in the new world order.

B. Raman (former intelligence officer):

There is no evidence to show that this could be a prelude to a major Chinese assertion of territorial sovereignty in this area. The Chinese aim seems to be to re-assert their claim of sovereignty over this area without disturbing peace and tranquillity. The Chinese troops are presently camping in the area in a tent. We will have reasons to be more than concerned only if they stay put there and construct permanent defences as they often do in the uninhabited islands of the South China Sea […] There is a noticeable keenness on the part of both China and India to avoid any provocative incident either in the Eastern or Western sector […] The Chinese are unlikely to relent in their claims to Indian territory in the Eastern sector till after they have succeeded in imposing on the Tibetans a Dalai Lama chosen by the Communist Party of China (CPC) with the help of the Panchen Lama chosen by the CPC

P. Stobdan (former Indian Ambassador):

Since 1986, China has taken land in the Skakjung area in the Demchok-Kuyul sector in Eastern Ladakh. Now, it has moved to the Chip Chap area in Northeastern Ladakh. As in Kargil, India has been lax in patrolling. Unlike the lowlands in Eastern Ladakh, the Chip Chap valley is extremely cold and inhospitable. Until end-March, it remains inaccessible, and after mid-May, water streams impede vehicles moving across the Shyok River. This leaves only a month and a half for effective patrolling by the Indian side. For China, accessibility to Chip Chap is easier. No human beings inhabit the area. No agencies except the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the army have a presence there. And both are locked in inter-departmental disputes […] The Chinese intention is to enter from the south of the Karakoram and cross the Shyok from the east. That would be disastrous for Indian defence, leaving the strategic Nubra vulnerable, possibly impacting supply lines and even India’s hold over Siachen. It is quite possible that China is eyeing the waters of the Shyok and Chang Chenmo rivers, to divert them to the arid Aksai Chin and its Ali region. The only provocation from the Indian side was the recent opening of airbases at Daulat Beg Oldi, Fukche and Nyoma […]

As of today, the issue is not reclaiming 38,000 square km of Aksai Chin lost to China in 1962 but retaining the territory lying inside the Indian LAC. India’s problems include poor infrastructure, shortcomings in understanding the boundary, discrepancies in maps held by various agencies, a lack of institutional memory, lack of clarity in South Block, a demoralised army. In a 2010 meeting, officials admitted the loss of substantial land in 20-25 years, though then Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor dismissed that Ladakh had shrunk. Some agencies used the change in river course as a reason for the loss of 500-1,500 metres of land every year […] India’s political sensitivity towards Ladakh has also waned over the years. A drift in Ladakh is not desirable.

Major General Vinod Saighal:

To the armed forces, to the people of India, and to the world the foreign minister of India is not going to the Chinese capital to demand a pull-back. He is seen to be going to Beijing as a supplicant. As in the days of yore the imperial power may graciously oblige its vassal. The country will not know as to what concessions the minister would have been authorised to concede that would further undermine India’s capability in the future. Flowing from it, it could be well on the cards that during the Chinese Prime Minister’s visit some public pronouncements that the country can live with would be made. Nobody would be deceived that once again India would have been humiliated.

India still has a range of options to make China see reason without losing face. It hardly matters that India loses face, the country having been inured to it, used to it and reconciled to it by now. If these options are not exercised early enough – timing always being of the essence – India’s humiliation would have been compounded and its military position further degraded. What is worse the status quo might conceivably turn out to be freezing of positions as obtaining on the date of the agreement; meaning thereby the new LAC on the DBO sector would be 19 kms within Indian Territory.

Sushil Kumar (former navy chief):

This stand-off may be defused diplomatically, but what it really shows is the PLA’s contempt for our military capability. This raises a serious question: why do we continue to remain militarily fragile vis-a-vis China, despite being nuclear-armed, with a deterrent that boasts of an ICBM capability? […] We consequently lack the refinements needed for manoeuvre warfare in our mountainous borders with China. With improved border infrastructure and massive airlift resources, the PLA can deploy up to four full-fledged mountain divisions to any point along the LAC within 24 hours. In contrast, our troops remain bogged down by decrepit border infrastructure and lack of mobility. That is the ground reality […]

But why are we in such a paradox — nuclear-armed, yet militarily fragile? It is because we have deluded ourselves that nuclear deterrence reduces the need for conventional force levels and, taken in by this flawed proposition, scarce national resources have been diverted to build a nuclear war-fighting machine that will never be used. Influenced by nuclear warfare gurus with a “nuclear mindset”, we have misplaced our strategic priorities […] Hopefully, we are not going to make the type of strategic blunder Great Britain made in the 1960s and 1970s, when it opted for the Polaris-Trident programme to bolster its nuclear deterrence. Massive resources were diverted that emasculated Britain’s conventional war-fighting capability. It cost the Royal Navy dearly. An atrophied Royal Navy realised the consequences of this folly much later in1982, when it could barely assemble a motley group of ships to sail for the Falklands.

Srikanth Kondapalli:

They are testing us and we are testing them back. When you have uncertainty, people play games. In this case, the fact that we asked for two flag meetings and the Chinese had to accept, indicated that we too put them to a test. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a comment on this, and their foreign ministry spokesperson also said, “We should go back to status quo.” This means they accepted that it was China that changed the status quo, so to go back to it, they will have to withdraw and go back 10 km. So it is true that China tested India and India, in turn, also succeeded in testing it […] I don’t think this issue will lead to a war. This is just posturing. Both sides will protect their sovereignty and territorial integrity, but they will not go to war on small issues. It is a big issue in terms of changing the status quo, but a small issue in terms of war.

Manoj Joshi:

Even so, it would be hazardous to speak definitively about Chinese motivations. After being lambasted by the Indian media for occupying “Indian territory,” the Chinese might be concerned about losing face with a hasty retreat. The fact of the matter is that the boundary in the region is defined merely by a notional Line of Actual Control, which is neither put down on mutually agreed maps, let alone defined in a document through clearly laid out geographical features. While both sides accept most of the LAC and respect it, there are some nine points where there are overlapping claims and both sides patrol up to the LAC, as they understand it. In such circumstances, the Chinese could well withdraw after a decent interval.

This more benign interpretation of Chinese behaviour is also in tune with the statements that the new leadership in Beijing has been making […] 2013 is not 1962 and the Indian media and politicians should not behave as though it was, by needlessly raising the decibel level and trying to push the government to adopt a hawkish course on the border. But what the recent controversy does tell us is unsettled borders are not good for two neighbours because they can so easily become the cause of a conflict that neither may be seeking.

Praveen Swami:

Finding a speculative explanation for what is going on is easy. For example, it is possible Chinese want to lean harder on Indian positions facing the Karakoram, or that they are signalling irritation about India’s wider build-up on its eastern borders, which includes the raising of an entire new corps […] It is also, of course, possible that China is telling the truth when it suggests the action may be a protest against defensive fortifications India has put up in Phuktsé, to compensate for its vulnerable logistical chain […]

Even though it’s improbable China wants war, India wants one even less. India’s political leadership is hesitant to authorise force, wary of the certain costs of precipitating a crisis. Later this year, as the cold sets in across Ladakh, China’s outpost will have to withdraw: there’s simply no way to survive the cold in temporary shelters. However, Chinese will by then have drawn lessons about Indian resolve—and it’s vital, in the long-term interests of peace, that they not be the wrong ones. There are things India can do, short of setting off a firefight, which can signal seriousness of purpose: among them, more aggressive probes and presence-marking operations. There will be a price—but it will be cheaper than the cost of doing nothing now.

Zorawat Daulet Singh (via Nitin Pai):

China’s perceptions and its approach to its entire periphery has undergone changes in recent years. The reasons can be attributed mostly to internal political dynamics where the Dengist image of a pragmatic and agreeable China has been trumped by a more assertive self-image of China as a great power. The East Asian geopolitical dynamic, especially the US ‘pivot’ and renewed intra-allied cooperation in the US security network, only reinforces China’s threat perceptions and its assertive posture. This is now an ongoing game as part of the evolving balance of power in the Asia Pacific […] At some point intense forward probing can tend to undermine the bigger negotiating picture with both militaries seeking marginal improvements in their LACs. If political oversight from both sides over the operational details is robust then this game can carry on a little longer. While on India’s side political oversight is strong, overzealous tactical behaviour must not be allowed to dictate the strategy of seeking a negotiated settlement.

Brahma Chellaney:

In this light, it will be a mistake to view the Chinese intrusion in Ladakh in isolation of the larger pattern of increasing Chinese assertiveness that began when Beijing revived its long-dormant claim to Arunachal Pradesh just before the 2006 India visit by its president, Hu Jintao. The resurrection of that claim, which was followed by its provoking territorial spats with several other neighbours, was the first pointer to China staking out a more domineering role in Asia. It was as if China had decided that its moment has finally arrived […] India’s defensive and diffident mindset has been on full display in the latest episode. Not only has it publicly downplayed an act of naked aggression — the worst Chinese intrusion since the 1986 Sumdorong Chu incursion brought the two countries to the brink of war — but India also insists on going with an outstretched hand to an adversary still engaged in hostile actions, unconcerned that it could get the short end of the stick yet again […]

More fundamentally, India can maintain border peace only by leaving China in no doubt that it has the capability and political will to defend peace. If the Chinese see an opportunity to nibble at Indian land, they will seize it. It is for India to ensure that such opportunities do not arise. In other words, the Himalayan peace ball is very much in India’s court. India must have a clear counter-strategy to tame Chinese aggressiveness. […] To build countervailing leverage, India has little choice but to slowly reopen the central issue of Tibet — a card New Delhi wholly surrendered at the altar of diplomacy during the time Atal Bihari Vajpayee was prime minister.

Jaideep Prabhu:

Returning to 2013, these patterns from the past are immediately visible – proclamations of the desire for peaceful coexistence, feigned anger at a supposed slight, ambiguous diplomatic positioning, and military risk-taking with the hope of usurping territory and rights undefended. Enough ink has already been spilled on how the Indian military might better defend the country’s frontiers, how India lacks a coherent China policy, and how Indians need to calm down about an incident that is more routine than one would like. However, it might also behoove policy makers to take a step back and see the larger pattern of Chinese behaviour with its neighbours: duplicity, opacity, and belligerence when they can get away with it. The present border skirmish is not an isolated incident but fits uncomfortably well with Chinese strategy over the past few decades. India needs to consider the entirety of Chinese strategy and not restrict its response to a singular event but develop a range of options by which to undermine China’s game.

Pierre Fitter:

Let’s start with the immediate problem – the incursions. The one thing India does not want to do is to play Beijing’s game. Beijing wouldn’t mind a fight right now. This would rally China’s citizens behind the Party. The goal, remember, is not the fight itself, which the PLA will likely win thanks to superior logistics. It is for the Party to have the unquestioning support of its citizens. India, at any rate, cannot afford a conflict right now. The best solution is to talk and defuse such provocations. This has happened 600 times before and will continue to happen in the future. The media should avoid conflating such obvious distractions with the real problems identified above.

That said, there is no harm in enhancing India’s ability to respond to a potential conflict. The stationing of new military units along the LAC is a strong signal that New Delhi is prepared to defend its territory. This conventional deterrence bolstered by the existing nuclear deterrent, will ward off more serious land-grabbing attempts […] Another strong signal would be the strengthening of ties with China’s other neighbours such as Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan […] The wider the basket of benefits for good behaviour, the greater will be Beijing’s perceived alienation for its bad behaviour. MEA officials and observers in the strategic community indicate that the New Delhi is doing exactly this. Perhaps its public messaging could do with improvement.

Suggested additions welcome.